Monday, 25 February 2013

Critical week: Oscar spreads the love

Oscar voters scattered awards around among the year's top films last night, leaving smiles on the winners' faces and confounding those who tried to predict how it would all go. I only guessed 15 of 24 awards, which wasn't too bad on a night like this. As expected Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway took Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress, with the night's trickiest major category, Supporting Actor, going to Christoph Waltz. When the dust settled, Ang Lee walked off with Director, while Ben Affleck and George Clooney also added Oscars to their mantlepiece as producers of Best Picture Argo. The film's entire team took to the stage to celebrate.
Seth MacFarlane hosted the event and had some good lines, although his opening sequence was more than a little chaotic, with the spectral appearance of Captain Kirk William Shatner and a couple of song and dance numbers (he's centre top-right with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe), including a rather amusing misogynistic ditty called We Saw Your Boobs. Looking nervous, he peppered the show with a wide variety of gags, which continued through the night, sometimes funny, sometimes eliciting shocked gasps (a John Wilkes Booth joke) and sometimes taking a little too long to get to the punchline (a hilariously absurd Sound of Music gag).

Music dominated the ceremony, which was a nice change from recent all-business years. Three Oscared musicals from the past 10 years - Chicago, Dreamgirls and Les Miserables - recreated big moments on-stage, but the most memorable numbers were performed by Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger in the Bond tribute), Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were in the In Memoriam sequence) and Adele (middle-right) belting her soon-to-win Bond theme Skyfall.
Best and worst dressed were Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts, respectively (bottom-right). Daniel Day Lewis' delivered by far the best acceptance speech - let him host next year! And memorable moments included Jennifer Lawrence stumbling up the steps in her massive dress, the insane pairing of Charlize Theron and Dustin Hoffman to hand out the screenwriting awards, a shambolic appearance by most of The Avengers, and Michelle Obama joining Jack Nicholson by video link to present Best Picture.

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It's been a busy week here in London, as we caught up with a few big-name titles, including Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects, which pleasantly surprised us by shifting from a pharmaceutical drama into a trashy thriller as it went along. Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez brought their distinctly enjoyable personas to the blunt action thriller Parker, Richard Gere had a chance to shine as a beleaguered banker in Arbitrage, and Dominic Cooper and Dan Stevens fought over Emily Browning in the true period drama Summer in February. And I also caught up with the fifth Oscar-nominated doc How to Survive a Plague just before the ceremony on Sunday. It's a serious stunner - essential viewing.

We also had the launch event for the British Film Institute's 27th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, which was a terrific party as always. I've been catching up with some of the films in advance of the festival 14-24 March, including the hugely entertaining opening night documentary I Am Divine, the engaging closing night Canadian comedy-drama Margarita, the American romance I Do, the Korean odyssey White Night and Joy! Portrait of a Nun, a freeform doc about one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Coming this week: Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines, James Franco and Mila Kunis in Oz the Great and Powerful, Josh Duhamel and Rosario Dawson in Fire With Fire, the Icelandic shipwreck thriller The Deep and the French biopic Renoir. Plus several more LLGFF titles.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Oscar night: out on a limb

Here are my hopes and expectations for the big ceremony on Sunday in Los Angeles. For the first time in about four years, I'll be in London watching through the night - the ceremony runs roughly from 2am to 6am, with Best Picture awarded just as the sun is coming up.

This year's awards race has been the strangest in ages, with no runaway favourite. Most but not all of the categories have someone who is odds-on to win (Supporting Actor is the hardest to predict), but Oscar voters have a way of confounding expectations. So as always I'm cheering for upsets...

Will win: Argo
Should/could win: Life of Pi
Also quite possible: Lincoln
Dark horse: Silver Linings Playbook

Will/should win: Ang Lee
Possible: Steven Spielberg
Dark horse: Michael Haneke

Will/should win: Jennifer Lawrence
Very possible: Emmanuelle Riva
Dark horse: Jessica Chastain

Will/should win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Possible: Hugh Jackman
Dark horse: Bradley Cooper

S U P P O R T I N G    A C T R E S S
Will/should win: Anne Hathaway
Possible: Sally Field

S U P P O R T I N G    A C T O R
Will/should win: Alan Arkin
Very possible: Tommy Lee Jones or Christoph Waltz
Dark horse: Robert De Niro

O R I G I N A L    S C R E E N P L A Y
Will/should win: Django Unchained
Possible: Zero Dark Thirty
Dark horse: Amour

A D A P T E D    S C R E E N P L A Y
Will win: Argo
Should/could win: Lincoln
Dark horses: Life of Pi or Silver Linings Playbook

F O R E I G N    F I L M
Will/should win: Amour
Dark horse: A Royal Affair
(NB. I haven't seen War Witch or Kon-Tiki in this category)

Will win: Searching for Sugar Man
Should/could win: How to Survive a Plague
Dark horse: The Gatekeepers

A N I M A T E D   F E A T U R E
Will/should win: Frankenweenie
Very possible: Wreck-it Ralph
Dark horses: Brave or ParaNorman

Monday, 18 February 2013

Critical Week: This little piggie

The most striking film of the past week was an adaptation of Irvine Welsh's notorious, acclaimed novel Filth, starring James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent, Imogen Poots and Shirley Henderson. Comments on the film are embargoed pending the announcement of a release date (or perhaps a prominent festival slot?). Once the embargo is lifted, this is likely to become one of the most talked-about movies of the year.

Two films were screened very late to critics this past week: the fifth in the Bruce Willis franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard, was more of the same although slightly more coherent than the previous episode, and the teen-franchise launcher Beautiful Creatures caught us off guard when it turned out to be rather good, with strong rising-star performances from Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert. We also had Viggo Mortensen speaking Spanish as identical twins in the atmospheric Argentine thriller Everybody Has a Plan, Brady Corbet speaking French in the unsettling sociopath drama Simon Killer, an indie cast speaking Shakespearean English in Joss Whedon's enjoyable but awkward black and white version of Much Ado About Nothing, Mathieu Kassovitz marshalling the French military on a South Pacific island in the riveting thriller Rebellion, and the contrived but charming New York graffiti artist comedy Gimme the Loot.

There were also three documentaries this week, including Reincarnated, which follows Snoop Dogg's trip to Jamaica to reinvent his music and himself. It's a bit of a stoner comedy, but has some strong moments. And I caught up with two docs nominated for the Oscar on Sunday night: from Israel, The Gatekeepers is a brainy, inventive look at how the Israeli government tries to control Palestine, while The Invisible War is an urgent, stomach-churning exposé of the sexual assault epidemic in the US military.

This coming week we have Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper in the dramatic thriller The Place Beyond the Pines, another all-star Steven Soderbergh cast in the pharmaceutical thriller Side Effects, Richard Gere in the financial drama Arbitrage, Dominic Cooper in the art colony romance Summer in February, Michael Bay's found-footage thriller The Bay and two docs about Aids: Fire in the Blood and How to Survive a Plague, which is the final Oscar nominee for me to catch, just in time for Sunday's ceremony. Watch this space for my predictions as always...

Monday, 11 February 2013

Critical Week: Bafta with beards! On ice!

The British Academy Film Awards - better known as the Baftas - were held last night at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, a gorgeously glamorous venue even on a grisly night in which the driving rain turned to sleet and then snow. A-listers bravely made their way up the icy red carpet under umbrellas and heavy coats, with the odd instance of a starlet visibly shivering in the cold while trying to show some flesh. And as predicted, it was Argo's night in the spotlight, as Ben Affleck won two of his three nominations - for Director and Film (produced with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, above). He missed out on Actor to, unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis. Bafta voters also showed their love for Django Unchained, giving Original Screenplay to Quentin Tarantino and Supporting Actor to Christoph Waltz, essentially making this category a two-horse race at the Oscars in two weeks between Waltz and SAG winner Tommy Lee Jones.

Anne Hathaway continued her romp through the Supporting Actress category this awards season. And in a not-so-surprising upset Emmanuelle Riva won Actress, considerably boosting her chances of taking the Oscar. The nicest surprise was David O Russell winning Adapted Screenplay and delivering a genuinely unexpected thank-you. In the British categories, Skyfall was the predicted winner of British Film; British-produced docs The Imposter and Searching for Sugar Man both won awards; despite the fact that no one saw Killer JoeJuno Temple won the public vote for Rising Star; and the two awards for venerable Brits went to filmmaker Alan Parker (Bafta Fellowship) and Film Four veteran Tessa Ross (Outstanding Contribution). Pictured at right (clockwise from top-left): Hathaway, Waltz, Temple, Tarantino, Mendes and Broccoli, and Day-Lewis.

Speaking of venerable, Stephen Fry was simply terrific as the ceremony's host, with his smart, hilarious banter, most of which probably went over the heads of the Americans in the audience, for a variety of reasons. Mixing absurd silliness with pithy commentary on recent headlines, he kept things moving impeccably as always, eliciting a kiss-to-camera this year from Jennifer Lawrence and flirting shamelessly with a slightly perplexed Jeremy Irvine. The Best Presenter-Pairing Award goes to Bradley Cooper and Affleck - there were audible "woofs" from the audience as they strode manfully tot he podium. The Best Acceptance Speech Award goes to Waltz, for a warm, snappy thank you, with Day-Lewis as a witty runner-up.

All the winners...
  • Film: Argo - Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney
  • Film Not in the English Language: Amour - Michael Haneke, Margaret Ménégoz
  • Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man - Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn
  • Outstanding British Film: Skyfall - Sam Mendes, Michael G Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
  • Animated Film: Brave - Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
  • Director: Ben Affleck - Argo
  • Original Screenplay: Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino
  • Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook - David O Russell
  • Leading Actress: Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
  • Leading Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
  • Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway - Les Misérables
  • Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained
  • Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer: Bart Layton, Dimitri Doganis - The Imposter
  • Rising Star: Juno Temple
  • Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema: Tessa Ross
  • Bafta Fellowship: Sir Alan Parker
  • Cinematography: Life of Pi - Claudio Miranda
  • Original Film Music: Skyfall - Thomas Newman
  • Production Design: Les Misérables - Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson
  • Costume Design: Anna Karenina - Jacqueline Durran
  • Editing: Argo - William Goldenberg
  • Make-Up And Hair: Les Misérables - Lisa Westcott
  • Sound: Les Misérables - Simon Hayes, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Jonathan Allen, Lee Walpole, John Warhurst
  • Visual Effects: Life of Pi - Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R Elliott
  • Short Film: Swimmer - Lynne Ramsay, Peter Carlton, Diarmid Scrimshaw
  • Short Animation: The Making of Longbird - Will Anderson, Ainslie Henderson

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Meanwhile, films screened for London critics this past week included the gonzo guilty pleasure Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, a violent fairy tale starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton (who both presented awards at the Baftas). Elijah Wood stars in the first-person remake of the grisly serial killer horror Maniac; Danny Dyer stars in the dire film adaptation of the British farce Run for Your Wife; Romain Duris stars in the charming, slightly too-quirky French romantic-comedy Populaire; and Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda won the week with his drop-dead gorgeous childhood adventure I Wish.

This coming week's titles include late screenings of Bruce Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard and Alice Englert in the teen-franchise launcher Beautiful Creatures. We also have James McAvoy in a film of Irvine Welsh's Filth, Viggo Mortensen in Everybody Has a Plan, Brady Corbet in Simon Killer, Joss Whedon's take on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Mathieu Kassovitz's thriller Rebellion, the New York gang drama Gimme the Loot, the Oscar-nominated Israeli doc The Gatekeepers, and the Snoop Dogg/Snoop Lion doc Reincarnated.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Critical Week: Fields of gold

London-based critics finally had a chance to catch up with last year's Terrence Malick film To the Wonder, a deeply personal meditation on relationships and faith starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams (pictured), plus Olga Kurylenko. It's a swirling, virtually dialog-free drama that kind of spirals out of control in the final third, but leaves us thinking. The only real mainstream film last week was the enjoyable geriatric caper romp Stand Up Guys, with the all-star trio of Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin. I also had the chance to catch up with Roman Coppola's A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, an unhinged style-over-substance comedy-drama clearly based on elements from the life of star Charlie Sheen.

Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral is an exercise in style and substance, a gleamingly yucky futuristic tale of fandom taken to life-threatening extremes. Sammy's Great Escape is a sequel to 2010's A Turtle's Tale, and keeps us entertained with a slightly deranged script and a gloriously excessive use of 3D. Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland's unnerving dramatic thriller Lore is so gorgeously well shot and naturalistically acted that we almost forget that it's set in Nazi Germany. The Argentine anthology Sexual Tension: Volatile is an intriguing collection of six shorts exploring unexpected attraction between men. And bringing things full circle, Muzaffer Ozdemir's loosely plotted Home (Yurt) is a deeply personal meditation on the effects of progress on nature in the mountainous wilds of Turkey.

Coming this week: Bruce Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard, the gothic teen romance Beautiful Creatures, Danny Dyer in Run for Your Wife, Elijah Wood in Maniac, Barry Levinson's found footage thriller The Bay and Hirokazu Koreeda's I Wish.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Lift at Soho Theatre

A world premiere musical at the Soho Theatre until 24th February, Lift is a conceptual piece about human connections that may frustrate audiences looking for a simplistic plot. Instead, there's a provocative exploration of relationships, centred on the way we all clam up when we get into an elevator, retreating into ourselves as we are forced into close proximity with strangers we probably have a lot in common with.

At the centre is a busker (George Maguire), who imagines inter-connections between people as he travels up from the platform at Covent Garden Tube station. The journey takes less than a minute, and yet he has time for a nearly 90-minute flight of fancy in which the other seven people take on a variety of roles.

There's a French teacher (Julie Atherton) who, in an attempt to get over her ex-girlfriend, visits a lap-dancing club and meets a pole-dancer (Cynthia Erivo). She's the friend and confidant of a young ballet dancer (Jonny Fines) who seems to be a womaniser but is actually a closeted gay. In a web chatroom he pretends to be a girl so he can flirt with a straight young businessman (Luke Kempner), who in turn seems oblivious to the debilitating crush his secretary (Nikki Davis-Jones) has on him. There are also two American tourists (Robbie Towns and Ellie Kirk) in the lift, and they take on the roles the dancer and businessman create online.

These scenes shift and flow in and out of each other, repeating and circling as the busker uses them to try to sort out his own relational issues. And while it's fascinating to watch, we never quite understand the gist of what's essentially a journey through one man's emotional baggage. It perhaps doesn't help that the book and lyrics both feel somewhat underwritten, continually using banal observations rather than more telling inner yearnings.

Even so, the cast members bring everything to vivid life with storming performances. The songs have a belting quality that's reminiscent of Rent, with a terrific rock band to back them up. The actors constantly find resonance in the songs, reminding us of our own relationships, most notably how everything reminds us of our exes, even though we are trying so hard to forget them and move on.

Technically the show looks great, with an intriguingly industrial-style set that shifts and changes shape and colour for the various scenarios. It may be impossible to follow - or to even figure out what the central theme is - but there's plenty here to enjoy in the performances and the way so many small ideas get under the skin.

Directed by Steven Paling
Music & lyrics by Craig Adams
Book by Ian Watson
Produced by Jim Zalles (Theatre Bench), Ros Povey, Andy & Wendy Barnes (Perfect Pitch)